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MAR 27, 2006 - Mini-Comets Approaching is a timely NASA heads-up to the forthcoming fly-by of a dying comet. In 1995, Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 split into several pieces. In a matter of a few weeks or so, the fragments are going to fly past Earth, closer than any comet has come in the last twenty years or so. They won't be much of a sight for naked eye observers (only fourth or fifth magnitude, on the order of a dim star). But if you can get yourself out away from big city light pollution with binoculars or a small telescope, you should do okay. Or, just watch for the Hubble pix to come in. The sky show, subtle though it may be, starts on May 12: look east before sunrise, between Altair and Deneb. And if you see a meteor shower too, count yourself lucky. Cometary debris has been known to give rise to meteor showers, and this could be the year that Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 puts on its first celestial fireworks display. Dying comets, after all, go out in a blaze of glory.
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